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PHOTO ESSAY

Influential Black Women

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Mary McLeod Bethune, 1949

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the leading activists in African American history, rivaling the likes of W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass. Bethune's career began in Daytona, Florida where, in 1904, she founded a school for the domestic education of young girls. The school quickly grew capturing the attention of Booker T. Washington as well as the black press. By the mid 1920s Bethune's tiny school for five students was a thriving coed college. Despite economic hardships during the Great Depression the college managed to stay open and her reputation as a leader in education expanded. In addition to her role as college president, Bethune founded and presided over several of the most important organizations for black women at that time, including the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Council of Negro Women. In 1939 Bethune became director-in-charge of Negro Affairs in the New Deal National Youth Administration (NYA). She reached even greater heights as a leader when she was appointed as a top advisor and organizer in the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet." Bethune's relationships with both F.D.R. and Eleanor Roosevelt opened unprecedented doors for African Americans—both men and women.

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